Fort Riley, Kansas



Public Works tackle highest amount of extreme weather damages in a decade

By Suet Lee-Growney | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | January 29, 2018

      Fort Riley’s Operations and Maintenance Division, part of the Directorate of Public Works, experienced a surge in Priority 1 damages caused by severe winter weather.

     The rise in damages began during New Year’s Day when Kansas experienced extreme weather, said Sandy Walker, chief of OM, DPW.

     “We started observing damages after the new year — the long four-day weekend — when nobody was around,” Walker said. “Then we came in here on Jan. 2 and that’s when we received calls. We were observing facilities that were very cold, frozen pipes, water spraying and just everything.”

     Priority 1 level damages are those that require immediate attention and typically concern heating and water. If a heating unit fails during a cold spell, a pipe bursts or there is a flood in the building, it is considered a Priority 1, Walker said.

     There were about 200 buildings at Fort Riley that experienced Priority 1 damages. Some of these places included four Child Development Centers, the Custer House and several barracks. There were also three major water line ruptures on Marshall Army Airfield and Custer Hill.

     “It's one of the worst (in terms of number of Priority 1 damages) with internal facility damages and external facility damages since the ice storm of 2007,” Walker said.

      The total in damages, according to Walker, has reached $1 million and they are still assessing most of the damages.

      Dave Porter, engineering technician with OM, DPW, said the cause of heating, ventilation and air conditioning units to fail and pipes to burst was a sequence of several factors: the sustaining low temperatures below freezing point that caused the ground to freeze, the lack of radiant heat from the sun, the arctic wind chill and the lack of user management.

     “You don't have the building being utilized, toilets being flushed, sinks being used and that doesn’t keep that water flowing,” Porter said. “Sometimes just water flowing prevents (water in pipes) from freezing … also tenant error. Sometimes tenants, they want to conserve energy, it's a habit that we're all trained in. So when they leave for the weekend, they shut off the heat. Some of it is just the lack of staffing to be able to go in prior to a long weekend. We're not able to physically go into all these facilities to make sure the heat is turned on.”

      After a Priority 1 call is addressed, the urgency of the work order is bumped down to Priority 2, which can stay at that level until DPW have the time to come back to it. Walker said a 12-person HVAC team in his division worked hard to make the damaged buildings operate again, but some of the work had to be contracted out due to lack of manpower during the Jan. 2 weekend.

      “Many were on leave — you use or you lose leave,” Walker said. “They were planned and approved leave. I know many of them who were on leave, we called them in because we needed their support … I had to bring our machinist in to rebuild an air handler shaft bearing assembly for the (military police) building. He was on approved leave, but was more than willing to come in.”

      When a building floods or a pipe breaks, Walker said, fixing the cause of the problem can be a long complicated process that affects the building’s users. In the case of a flood, walls have to be partially replaced to prevent mold from growing after the water has been cleared out. Pipes busting are caused by the lack of heat and additional ruptures, if any, in pipelines have to be found before the facility is opened again.

      “In CDCs especially, we will cut out 2- to 3-feet of wall and replace it,” Walker said. “And during that time of construction and repairs, those kids are displaced.”

      There are many ways tenants can help prevent future cold weather damages. Porter said by maintaining a 50 to 60 Fahrenheit temperature in building and closing doors can help alleviate some of these issues.

      “Close the doors and the windows — that would help us a lot,” he said. “If you have a closed foyer, there is a sprinkler there and there's no heat out there, if you prop open an exterior door, the temperature drops and the exposed metal head of the sprinkler — it's not a stretch for that to freeze and burst.”